All they wanted was a faster horse!
As one of SETsquared Bristol’s entrepreneurs-in-residence, I get to meet a broad range of people and businesses across the high tech sector. In my numerous meetings with early stage entrepreneurs and later stage companies, I hear many say that they plan to ask their customers what they want and just go ahead and develop a product that satisfies that request. It is a dangerous thing to purely depend on your customers having the best vision of the future; do they even know what they want? Henry Ford was quoted as saying…”If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse!” So he didn’t and look at the success his company has carved out. Others such as Twitter, Instagram and Google have all defined market demands by driving the solution.
Be quick with your vision
You need to have a clear vision of the future needs of the market even ahead of what the market demands today. For this, you need understanding and insight into your chosen market, potentially integrating tech solutions from elsewhere. Many revolutionary products and businesses launch products that are truly original and not what the market would have envisaged for themselves.
Steve Jobs once revealed “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” This recognises another side of the problem, time to market, as the marketplace and customers needs are changing all the time you risk always being behind the market if you simply build what you are told the customer needs. The need for continual innovation is real but not daunting. Get your vision sorted, get making, get collaborating.
How to do it
The best approach is to figure out where the market is going or what a potential, unforeseen, problem will face customers in the future. Then conceive of a product strategy that will enable you to launch a product that satisfies a future need just at the right time, hopefully catching your competition out. This has been done many times before and many businesses have succeeded with this approach.
It is a risky strategy, building something that no one is asking for, but if you believe in the future need and can build a business case to go after it, then go for it!